Labor and labor law is a rapidly evolving and controversial area of law, and the US Supreme Court routinely makes landmark decisions in this area.
Because the workplace is a controversial environment where issues of fairness play a major role, labor and employment lawsuits are extremely common. The outcome of an individual case can have a huge impact not only on those whose livelihoods are at stake, but also on society as a whole, as court rulings can set legal precedents that regulate the dealings between employers and employees.
What is labor and labor law?
Labor and labor law covers almost any disagreement that can arise between business owners, managers and subordinates, including allegations of theft. This legal specialty defines the rights and obligations of employees, their superiors and company owners and sets the limits for what each party is allowed to do in the workplace.
This expansive legal discipline is divided into two main segments: labor law, which focuses on collective bargaining and unions, and labor law, which focuses on the relationship between an employee and his or her supervisor.
“It’s a vast area of law with something that appeals to everyone,” wrote Michelle Murtha, a trial attorney who deals with cases of workplace discrimination and sexual harassment in New York, in an email. “You can also work on both sides of the fence, representing either corporate plaintiffs or corporate defendants.”
This legal discipline not only regulates the relationship between a company and its workforce, but also sets parameters for the hiring and recruitment of employees, since discrimination against applicants based on certain characteristics – such as race, gender or religion – is prohibited.
Why someone could choose this field
According to experts in the field, aspiring lawyers passionate about ensuring equal opportunities for marginalized populations can enjoy a career as an employment or labor lawyer.
When workers’ legal rights are violated by their employers, plaintiff’s lawyers can provide labor legal assistance to workers who are wrong, said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the National Employment Lawyers Association, commonly known as NELA. “Defending these rights on the ground and making sure that they are not just words on a piece of paper but that they actually have teeth – that has to be done in court every day,” says Mittman.
Deborah Karpatkin, a NELA board member who regularly represents workers in labor law cases, emphasizes that the quality of a person’s work environment has a huge impact on that person’s overall quality of life. “Work is something we all do, and most of us have to work,” says Karpatkin, associate professor at the Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center at Touro College in New York. “We spend most of our waking hours at work. Work brings dignity to our lives, and not just pays our bills.”
One of the benefits of focusing on labor law as a lawyer is that there is significant controversy to be addressed, Karpatkin says. “It gives you an opportunity to make a difference for people in terms of something that is really important to them.”
Corporate or labor lawyers also find their work interesting and fulfilling, noting that there are times when employees try to take advantage of employers.
“Neither side is always right,” says Harvey Linder, partner at Culhane Meadows law firm. “Employees are wrong or can be wrong, and employers are wrong or can be wrong. Neither has a monopoly on the truth. And if you are able to run through this battlefield (and navigate these waters), then this is a place for you because when you get things done you can feel good. “
Both plaintiffs and defenders in labor and labor law suggest that the ongoing, dramatic transformation of this type of law makes it an exciting and fascinating area of legal practice.
Career prospects for labor and employment lawyers
According to Mark Kluger, co-founder of Kluger Healey law firm, there is significant demand for labor and employment lawyers right now for a variety of reasons, including the social movements #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. “Labor law has been a focus for many employers who need assistance on issues such as sexual harassment, diversity and inclusion. That was and is the core of labor law.”
Kluger notes that the pandemic has created a number of labor and labor law dilemmas, including legal issues related to family or sick leave, vacation, working hours reduction, remote working, layoffs and underlying health conditions that make certain workers very vulnerable to the Do die of COVID -19.
Federal legislation in response to the pandemic set certain rules on how employers could treat their workers during the pandemic, which also created work for lawyers in the area, he says. There is also legal debate about whether employers can require workers to get vaccinated against coronavirus. Kluger says last year was the busiest of his decades-long career.
Required skills and knowledge in labor and labor law
An understanding of human psychology and social interactions is essential to working as an employment lawyer, as disputes between business owners, managers and their subordinates are often very emotional and volatile, according to experts in the field. Aptitude and interest in negotiating are also a must for this profession. Therefore, anyone intending to get into this field should strongly consider taking a law school negotiation course, if available, experts suggest.
Prospective labor and labor lawyers should consider enrolling in at least one elective course that focuses on this area of law and taking a class in civil rights law closely related to labor law practice, say some experts.
Aspiring work and employment attorneys should also consider doing an internship or an external internship while studying law with a work-related government agency such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, experts suggest.
“Schools with labor law clinics can provide an extremely helpful introduction to dealing with employment issues that will stand out in terms of both experience and commitment to the law on a resume,” said Joyce Smithey, founding partner of the Smithey Law Group in Maryland wrote in an email.
Kluger, an employment lawyer who typically represents employers, suggests that problem-solving skills are required to distinguish yourself as an employment law attorney.
“Most lawyers, especially those involved in litigation, come after the disaster,” he says. “So in labor law we have a rare opportunity to prevent disasters without litigation, and ultimately it creates a healthier work environment for everyone.”